An Armenian judge ordered on Thursday a third separate trial stemming the armed attack on a police station in Yerevan that was carried out by a radical opposition group last year.
The 32 members and alleged backers of the group have stood two trials until now, facing grave accusations carrying lengthy prison sentences. Both trials have been effectively paralyzed by bitter wrangling between the presiding judges and the defendants and their lawyers. The latter have been routinely barred from hearings for contempt of court.
As a consequence, one of the judges, Artush Gabrielian, decided to permanently exclude 11 of the 18 defendants from the trial presided over by him. He said they will be tried by another judge.
Gabrielian did not explain his decision. None of the defendants was present in the courtroom when he read it out.
The defense lawyers, who have repeatedly accused Gabrielian of bias and violations of the due process, criticized the decision.
“They should not have split the criminal case into two parts to begin with,” one of them, Lusine Sahakian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “Now they have split it into three parts.” She said the judge thus also admitted his inability to conduct the trial.
Another lawyer, Yervand Varosian, claimed that the third trial will make it easier for the Armenian authorities to obstruct justice in the case. “They will obstruct in the sense that the same evidence will be examined by [three] different courts, which will makes no sense,” he said.
Sahakian, Varosian and other attorneys have for months been demanding that Gabrielian be replaced by another judge. They also claim that the authorities deliberately provoked the turmoil in both trials to hold them in their and their clients’ absence.
The three dozen opposition gunmen seized the police base in Yerevan’s Erebuni district in July 2016. They demanded that President Serzh Sarkisian free the jailed leader of their Founding Parliament movement, Zhirayr Sefilian, and step down. The gunmen laid down their arms following a two-week standoff with Armenian security forces which left three police officers dead.